Family Pets: A Series on Character-Building - #4. Experiencing the Natural World

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"We can never have enough of nature." - Henry Thoreau

Children are interacting less and less with the natural world. There are so many reasons for this. School schedules and extra-curricular activities expand to fill their days from dawn until dusk. Although green spaces even in suburbs and cities are becoming more abundant, the loss of tight-knit communities and neighborhoods has created a void - children simply can’t wander the streets and neighborhoods in the same way that they did a few decades ago.

While safety concerns and an awareness of dangers are valid, and while parents who show caution and a commitment to supervising their children should be applauded, this separation of children from the natural world is an unarguable tragedy.

Children who are deprived of the time and space to climb trees, dig in the dirt, throw leaves, and hunt for bugs are missing out. Even over-worked and over-scheduled adults know how soothing a brisk jog after work is or how therapeutic an afternoon in a hammock can be. How much more do our children need to experience the natural world, the breezes, the sunshine, and the animals that share the natural world with us?

Fortunately, family pets can help bridge this nature gap for many families. Perhaps your children can’t wander unsupervised through a forest, but they can toss the Frisbee with the dog in the backyard. Maybe your children can’t build a canoe and sail down a local creek, but they can breathe fresh air and get exercise in the sunshine while walking the family cat or dog around the block.

Here are some ways that you can lean on your family and neighborhood pets to encourage your children to EXPERIENCE THE NATURAL WORLD:

  • PLAN: Provide your children with the time in their schedules to play and simply “hang out” with your family pets. Ensure that a few afternoons a week have some unscheduled space or designate time for the family pets and children to be outside together. Note: if your children are young and need supervision, this will mean that you need to schedule your “nature time” as well!
  • PROMPT: When your children seem bored or lack inspiration for an activity, encourage them towards playing with your animals outdoors. Suggestions like “Why don’t you take Rover to the end of the block?” can provide your children and teenagers with the impetus that they need to spend time outside, experiencing nature and caring for their pets.
  • LEARN: Encourage your child or children to keep a journal of the plants or birds that they see on their walks or adventures with their pet. Invest in a few basic field guides and help your child learn about the animals and nature that surrounds him or her in your own neighborhood.
  • ENTER: Take a picture of your child caring for a vulnerable animal (either a family pet or another animal). Tag @elt_statement and #everylivingthing on Instagram and your child and pet could be featured on the Every Living Thing Instagram account!
  • SIGN: Sign the Every Living Thing Statement on behalf of your child and your family will receive a free copy of Finding Danny, the heartwarming tale of one child’s search for his missing pet. Check out the first post in this series for specific steps

Did you miss the other posts in this series? Learn how your family pets can help your children learn

Image Credit: HSUS

Emily McCord is an independent writer and policy and communications consultant. She is a two-time English major, holding a B.A. from Belhaven University and an M.A. from Indiana University. A former Congressional staffer and teacher, Emily currently lives in Texas with her husband and 1-year-old son. Emily encourages women as they juggle career pursuits, healthy lifestyles, and family life at The Orange Slate. You can follow Emily on Instagram (@emilyamccord) or Twitter (@emilyamccord).